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EUROPEAN UNION

Today in Austria: A round-up of the latest news on Tuesday

Find out what's going on today in Austria with The Local's short roundup of the news.

Sebastian Kurz
JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Regional measures to contain pandemic in east Austria to be discussed today

Known as the ‘Eastern Summit’, a crisis meeting will be held today with the Ministry of Health and the federal states of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland to discuss the coronavirus situation in east Austria and possible regional measures, the APA news agency reports.

In the other federal states, however, no further tightening or relaxation are planned.

Austria’s federal and state government met on Monday to discuss the next steps in the pandemic, but decided to maintain the status quo, despite a rise in infections and hospitalisations in east Austria, as The Local reported yesterday.

SEE ALSO: Austria to extend coronavirus lockdown measures

Highest ever coronavirus numbers in intensive care in Vienna

The seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 240.4. The number is now highest in Vienna (321.9), followed by Salzburg (300.3). The value is lowest in Vorarlberg (66.7), Carinthia (187.1) and Styria (187.3).

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior has reported 2,412 new coronavirus cases within the last 24 hours. There are currently 1,983 people in hospital treatment due to the coronavirus, 437 of them in intensive care units.

In Vienna, 162 people were being treated in intensive care on Monday for coronavirus, more than at the height of the second wave in autumn.

Kurz will not be getting ‘one extra jab’

Austrian newspapers Der Standard and Wiener Zeitung have picked up on a report in the Financial Times, according to which the EU does not want to grant Austria any extra vaccination doses as part of a distribution of 10 million additional BioNTech/Pfizer doses throughout the EU.

The FT quotes an unnamed EU official saying “Kurz will not be getting one extra jab”.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, along with five other central and eastern European Union heads of government, had previously urged Brussels to find a “correction mechanism” to fix what they called the unfair distribution of coronavirus vaccines within the bloc.

FPÖ accuses Greens of being behind Ibiza video

The leader of Austria’s right wing FPÖ parliamentary group Christian Hafenecker believes Austria’s Green Party were involved in the publication of the Ibiza video in 2019.

The secretly filmed video caused a political scandal which brought down Austria’s coalition government after two FPÖ politicians were shown discussing circumventing the law on party funding and taking over the media with the alleged niece of a Russian oligarch in Ibiza.

The Austrian newspapers Die Presse and Der Standard cover the latest developments.

READ MORE: Austrian far right leader resigns over Ibiza affair

Note: A previous version of this story said it was Monday. No, it was in fact Tuesday. But we could’ve sworn it felt like Monday. 

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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